The 2021-22 NBA season tipped off on Tuesday night with the defending World Champion Milwaukee Bucks hosting the Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers hosting the Golden State Warriors, two games that were sights to see for everyone who loves the NBA!
Basketball is back and with all 30 teams in the league at least one game into the new season, there are definitely key topics to discuss.
Obviously, the Ben Simmons situation in Philadelphia is going to overshadow a lot of what happens for them this season, but between rookies breaking out in big ways, trade rumors continuing to swirl around the league, and teams dealing with injuries, there is plenty to talk about with the season just beginning.
Should we hit the panic button for teams like the Lakers, Nets, Suns, and Trail Blazers, all of which dropped their first game of the season, and is it time to go “all-in” on teams like the Knicks, Bulls, and Jazz?
After recording a triple-double in his first game of the season against Los Angeles, does Steph Curry following this game up with a 45 point, 10 rebound performance against the other team in Los Angeles cement him as the early season favorite for league-MVP?
Let’s dive right in and take a look at one key takeaway and/or observation for each of the 30 teams in the NBA one game into the season!
Observation: Reaching the Eastern Conference Finals was not a fluke for Atlanta
The Atlanta Hawks did not just beat the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night in their season opener, they absolutely destroyed the Mavericks! In a battle of Trae Young versus Luka Doncic — the two players that were traded for one another during the 2018 NBA Draft — Young’s Hawks got the upper hand early on in the game and they never looked back.
Between having a great balance of shooters in their starting lineup and bench rotation, as well as having a handful of key guys who just play their role so well, Nate McMillan’s squad is legit.
Many believed that the Hawks made the Eastern Conference Finals as a “fluke” last season, but this team is not only deeper than they were a year ago but more experienced as well.
There are a lot of young players on this Hawks’ roster, but they play so well together and Trae Young seems to calm everything down, even if he is not making most of his shots.
Atlanta is definitely a team who can finish with a Top-4 record in the Eastern Conference this season and they are definitely a team who can make it back to the ECF this season.
Observation: Key young talents will be the x-factors for Boston this season
The Celtics-Knicks game in Madison Square Garden was arguably the best season opener this year, as it took 58 minutes to decide a winner! The Knicks came away with the amazing double-overtime victory, but new head coach Ime Udoka definitely has to be pleased with the way his team played.
Jaylen Brown was fantastic, as he had 46 points (8-14 3PT), 9 rebounds, and 6 assists one week after having COVID, and while Jayson Tatum struggled in this one, making just 7 of the 30 shots he took, other young talents on this Celtics roster stepped up.
Payton Pritchard, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Aaron Nesmith, and Robert Williams are all going to be essential pieces of this Celtics’ roster this season and they are going to have to continue to grow together in order for this team to have a shot at making a deep playoff run. Boston was without Al Horford and Josh Richardson in this game as well, two of their key offseason additions. When this team is at full strength, they will definitely be a tough team to face.
The Celtics’ bench has always been a question mark through the years, but if their young players continue to step up, Boston could absolutely be a dark-horse team to make the Eastern Conference Finals.
Observation: Rotations seem a little off and unbalanced
Kyrie Irving is going to be brought up every single time someone talks about the Brooklyn Nets this season and rightfully so, but the Nets do not necessarily need him to win a championship.
James Harden and Kevin Durant are two former league-MVPs and two of the best scorers of this generation, so Brooklyn is going to be at the top of the NBA standings all season long. However, with all of the new faces on their roster, it could take some time until this team reaches its full potential.
Figuring out who to play on a nightly basis will be a tough task for Steve Nash in his second season as the Nets’ head coach and outside of Patty Mills, nobody really stepped up for this team on Opening Night.
The Bucks seemed to get the shots they wanted against Brooklyn and their second-unit was definitely more comfortable than that of the Nets. LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul Millsap, and Bruce Brown combined for 25 total minutes off the bench, which is going to have to change.
Aldridge and Millsap may be older, but they are probably the best two frontcourt players on this Nets’ roster, and as for Bruce Brown, he came on last season in a big way as a guy who can do a little bit of everything for this team on the floor.
Plus, Durant and Harden seemed to play a lot better last year with Brown by their side on the court, so all season long, we will definitely see the Nets move pieces around and change their rotations quite a bit. It is just the first week of the season though, so there is nothing to be worried about in Brooklyn, even without Kyrie.
Observation: This is LaMelo Ball’s team now
The 2021-22 season looks to be another developmental year for the Charlotte Hornets, this team is really fun to watch! Not only do they have the best play-by-play announcers in Eric Collins and Dell Curry, as their heads almost explode every time the Hornets make a basket, but can we institute the Sophomore of the Year award for LaMelo Ball this year?
After winning Rookie of the Year last season, Ball entered this year with high expectations to be “the guy” in Charlotte and he delivered during their season opener, shooting 7-9 from three-point range en route to a 31 point night. The young point guard almost finished with a triple-double as well, as he had 9 rebounds and 7 assists in this game.
Gordon Hayward is the former All-Star on this roster and Terry Rozier was one of their leading scorers last season, but this is LaMelo Ball’s team and they are going to go as far as he is able to take them.
Guys like Miles Bridges, P.J. Washington, Jalen McDaniels, and others are still young, emerging talents, but this Hornets team definitely has the talent to be able to sneak into the postseason. They lost in the 9/10-seed play-in game a season ago and while they may be in the same situation again this season in regards to the play-in tournament, there is a lot to like about this Charlotte team.
Observation: Bulls’ bench will decide their season trajectory
The Detroit Pistons put up a great fight against the Chicago Bulls in both teams’ season-opening game, but Chicago was able to come out on top due to Zach LaVine’s 34 point night. Overall though, this was not an impressive showing for a Bulls’ team that has entered the new season with very high expectations.
After adding Nikola Vucevic at the trade deadline last season and adding Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan, and Alex Caruso in the offseason, the Bulls are expected to be a “sure-thing” playoff team in the Eastern Conference this year, but this team definitely has some problem to sort out.
The Bulls’ bench only scored 10 points against the Pistons, who finished last in the Eastern Conference standings last season, and 7 of those 10 points came from rookie Ayo Dosunmu, who played a total of 11 minutes. The only other basket came from a lone three-pointer by Alex Caruso.
In order for this Bulls team to live up to the hype around them, their bench is going to have to show life throughout the season and they will need guys like Derrick Jones Jr., Tony Bradley, and even Matt Thomas at times to step in, three guys who recorded DNP in the Bulls’ first game of the season.
Coby White is out right now recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, so when he returns he will give this bench a big lift, but overall, bench scoring is going to be where the Bulls make or break their season.
Observation: Cleveland is going to be a dangerous team attacking the paint offensively
The Cavaliers opened up their season with a starting lineup consisting of their dynamic backcourt duo of Darius Garland and Collin Sexton, but the rest of their lineup was rounded out by three 7-footers in Lauri Markkanen, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen.
In today’s NBA, many teams have adapted to the “small-ball” approach of putting more shooters out on the floor in favor of big paint players, but the Cavaliers have decided to go big, making it tough for teams to guard them.
They may not have won this game against the Grizzlies, but this “big” lineup may actually wind up working for the Cavaliers this season because of all the chances they are going to get to score in the paint.
We know what to expect from Garland and Sexton, but with a ton of 7-footers on their roster, the Cavaliers could absolutely punish smaller teams who do not have as much frontcourt depth as they may have.
Believe it or not, this is going to be the best team Cleveland has had without LeBron James in quite some time and it should not be shocking to see them in play for the 9 or 10-seed by the end of the season.
Observation: This team had no identity in their opening game
At some points in their first game on Thursday night, I was left truly wondering whether or not the Dallas Mavericks knew this was a regular-season game or thought this was still part of the preseason because they simply did not come to play. Luka Doncic is a sensational talent and this team does have plenty of other key talents around him, but they looked lost, they look lethargic and most of all, they had no fight in them the second the Hawks threw the first punch in this game.
This was just a bad team loss and you definitely cannot pinpoint one player because nobody other than maybe Jalen Brunson did their job. Brunson came off the bench and gave the Mavericks 26 really solid united, scoring 17 points on 7-13 shooting and he also had 3 rebounds, 3 assists.
Dallas’ entire starting rotation was a combined -106 for the game and the effort level compared to Atlanta just was not there. Starting off 0-1 is one thing, but starting out the season with a 26-point blowout loss that was not really close is really disappointing for the Mavericks.
Jason Kidd is going to get this team back on track and the only thing they can do at this point is to learn from this game. Wins and losses will happen for the Mavericks this year, as they are looking to prove that they can be a real threat in the Western Conference, but Kristaps Porzingis is going to be the key for them.
If he can play well and make a difference in the paint on both ends of the floor, Dallas can potentially transcend into being a top-tier team in the Western Conference, but if his struggles continue, they are nothing more than a six, seven, or eight-seed in the West that will once again lose in the first round.
Observation: Compared to last season, this Nuggets starting-unit showed no quit in them
Maybe because it was the first game of the season and they were in a hostile environment, the Denver Nuggets starters played a little better than many would have expected against the defending Western Conference Champions, but this looks like it could wind up being a recurring theme this year.
Losing Jamal Murray is a big hit to the Denver Nuggets, as he will be out for almost the entire 2021-22 season as he recovers from ACL surgery, but this team seems to be in good hands because of all the depth they have.
Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter Jr., and Will Barton, the three guys who received new contracts this offseason, are going to be keys to success for the Denver Nuggets this season and they played extremely well against Phoenix on Wednesday night.
Monte Morris, Jeff Green, and P.J. Dozier were also key factors in this game, but this should not come as a surprise. Denver has always played with that “next man up” mentality and with Nikola Jokic still looking like a viable MVP candidate, the Nuggets are going to be a top-tier team in the Western Conference all year long.
Observation: Cade will balance the Pistons a little more, but they will end up with another Top-5 pick
Losing their season opener by six points to the Chicago Bulls is going to hurt the Pistons in the short term because this was a game they could have won, but they are in a really good spot as a franchise right now.
Jerami Grant is still a high-level talent and young talents like Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, Killian Hayes, and others are going to continue to grow, especially when 1st overall pick Cade Cunningham takes the court for the first time.
Cade is out with an ankle injury right now and is basically being deemed “game-to-game” at this point, but he is going to provide some much-needed stability to this roster. He can facilitate, score and while he himself is only 20-years-old, Cunningham is going to make some of the other young players on this roster much better overall talents.
However, this Pistons team is still building for the future and as a result, they will finish with one of the worst records in the league again, resulting in another Top-5 pick in the NBA Draft.
Golden State Warriors
Observation: The Warriors finally have have depth, experience and that guy named Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry is good at basketball… like really, really, really good at basketball! He had a triple-double in the Warriors season opener against the Los Angeles Lakers, the 8th triple-double of his career, and he followed up this performance with a 45 point night against the Los Angeles Clippers in his team’s home opener on Thursday night.
Bringing in the likes of Andre Iguodala, Otto Porter Jr., and Nemanja Bjelica has done so much for this team already and these three guys give the Warriors veteran experience, something they did not really have last year.
These three are going to be key talents for Golden State all season long and so far they have been the difference in them starting the season 2-0 for the first time since the 2018-19 season, a year in which Golden State went to the NBA Finals. Both wins over the Lakers and Clippers were very impressive, but there are still some flaws present with this team that will need to be corrected as the season progresses.
Golden State came away with a two-point win on Thursday night against the Clippers, however, when they turn the ball over, this team is still susceptible to blowing leads as they did in this game. The Warriors led by as many as 19 points at one point and gave up this lead because of 21 total turnovers.
Other than hanging onto the ball and limiting their opponents’ fastbreak opportunities, this team is poised to be one of the best teams in the league again, especially when Klay Thompson and James Wiseman return from injuries.